The Pride will match up against an expansion side to start their campaign for the second time in Club history on Saturday, after hosting the Utah Royals at then-named Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, March 24, 2018. That match resulted in a 1-1 draw with current Pride midfielder Gunny Jónsdóttir opening the scoring in the third minute followed by Marta converting from the penalty spot in the 21st to level the sides. The contest will serve as Louisville’s first in NWSL play since the franchise was announced on Oct. 22, 2019.
Midfielder Marisa Viggiano returns to the Pride for her third year after she was inked to a deal this past offseason keeping her in Orlando through 2022. Viggiano, selected No. 30 overall by the Pride at the 2019 NWSL College Draft, was one of four members of the squad to play every minute of the Fall Series, leading the team with two finishes through four contests. Viggiano also led the Club in passing accuracy at 80.82% and is expected to play a key role for the Pride throughout the 2021 season.
The Gals are Back in Town
Three members of the Pride have returned to The City Beautiful after spending the latter half of 2020 away on loan, each looking to make their NWSL debuts at the Challenge Cup. Defender Ali Riley, who returned to her former club FC Rosengård of Sweden’s top-flight last year, will look to feature in a domestic women’s professional league for the first time since 2011, when she helped the Western New York Flash to the WPS Championship alongside current Pride teammates Marta, Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan. Spending the back half of 2020 with Spanish side Atlético Madrid, midfielder Jade Moore will look to feature in the U.S. for the first time in her career after being acquired by the Pride in April of last year. Lastly, 2020 NWSL College Draft selection Taylor Kornieck returns to the states from a stint in Germany, looking to make her NWSL debut after being selected third overall by the Pride at last year’s draft.
Phoebe McClernon and Abi Kim also spent time last year overseas, in Sweden and Italy respectively, returning to the Pride in 2021 on their first NWSL contracts.
The Young Ones
With the signing of forward Abi Kim just a month ago, Head Coach Marc Skinner has now inked six of his seven selections from the 2020 NWSL College Draft to full contracts with Kim, Taylor Kornieck, Courtney Petersen, Konya Plummer, Phoebe McClernon and Chelsee Washington all on the Pride’s Challenge Cup roster. Skinner has also inked two of his Fall Series signees to full contracts, in defenders Carrie Lawrence and Ally Haran, to add to his duo of young goalkeepers that includes the team’s latest signing, Gabby English, along with Brittany Wilson, who was signed ahead of the Fall Series late last year.
Balancing it Out
The Pride added four players this past offseason to bolster the NWSL experience on the squad, each having featured for at least one other league side in their respective careers. Acquired at the end of 2020, midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard joins the Pride after logging 75 appearances across all competitions in four seasons with the Washington Spirit. Joining her from Washington is forward Crystal Thomas, who was signed earlier in the preseason by the Pride. Thomas totaled 18 appearances across two different stints with the Spirit before joining the Pride as a trialist earlier in the year. Midfielders Gunny Jónsdóttir and Erika Tymrak have also joined after last featuring for the Utah Royals. Jónsdóttir, 32, has logged 52 NWSL appearances in her career while Tymrak has 125 to her credit across five seasons with FC Kansas City and two with Utah. Jónsdóttir will miss the start of the Challenge Cup while away on international duty.
With an Audience
Saturday will mark the first time the Pride will play in front of a crowd since October 12, 2019, with Racing Louisville set to host fans at Lynn Family Stadium for its inaugural NWSL match. With the Club electing to not allow fans through the 2020 Fall Series, the Pride’s last match in front of a crowd came in the 2019 season finale against the Reign at Exploria Stadium, a match that resulted in a 2-2 draw.
Team captain Ashlyn Harris, defender Ali Krieger, along with forwards Sydney Leroux and Marta will all be available for selection for the Pride to start the Challenge Cup after the four last featured for the Club at the Fall Series at the end of 2020. Marta, who resigned with the Club this past offseason, was one of four members of the Pride to play every minute of each match, with one assist throughout the competition, while also leading the side with six chances created and successful crosses/corners with seven. Harris appeared in three of the Pride’s matches at the Fall Series a year ago, registering 14 saves throughout the competition, while Leroux led the Pride in shots (8), shots on goal (5) and aerials won (8), finding the back of the net once, slamming home a shot on Oct. 9 against the Houston Dash. Krieger joined Marta as one of four members of the Pride to play every minute of the series, along with Marisa Viggiano and Courtney Petersen.